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Children’s Foundation launches 'emergency' fundraising campaign

The Children's Foundation of Guelph and Wellington hopes to raise $50,000 by Aug. 31 for its Free to Play program
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Organizers of a program that offers free sports programs for kids have started an emergency fundraising campaign as the need for the programs has outpaced its funding.

The Free to Play program will have to start denying applications if additional funding does not come in, said Glenna Banda, executive director of the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington.

“The applications are still coming in and it’s touch and go as to how many we will be able to approve, depending on how many donations are coming in,” said Banda.

She calls it a good news, bad news scenario. Good that more children will be able to participate as the foundation receives more applications, but bad that there is a need.

“The fact people are applying for it shows us that it’s really needed and there is a need in our community for it — we’ve just been challenged to keep up with the demand,” said Banda.

In most years, the foundation expects and budgets for an increase of about 10 per cent year over year for the Free to Play program. Banda said the unprecedented increase this year is estimated at about 20 per cent.

“Because there has been an increase every year, it has already been challenging to keep up. This is even a step beyond that,” said Banda.

So far this year, the Free to Play program has funded 1,239 children in 1,882 activities. In total, $307,000 has been distributed through the program, as well as $38,500 in funding the foundation has facilitated in a partnership with Canadian Tire's Jumpstart program.

The foundation hopes to raise $50,000 by Aug. 31.

“It’s unique in that every dollar that comes in is going to go out right away. It’s a nice opportunity for a donor that is looking for their money to go direct to kids and have an impact right away,” said Banda.

To be eligible for the Free to Play program, a family must have a household income that falls below the low-income cut-off income as identified by Statistics Canada. The foundation estimates 10,000 children and youth are living in low-income situations in Guelph and Wellington County.

Each eligible child is entitled to up to $400 toward sports, camps or arts programs. But Banda said the average used by children in the program is about $250.

“Some of the fall activities that are coming up can have a higher price point, like dance is one of the ones we get a lot of requests for,” said Banda.

The benefits of offering kids living in low-income situations the same opportunities as others can be a great equalizer, said Banda.

“We really believe that every child should have the same opportunity and there are a lot of benefits outside the activity itself that happens,” said Banda. “It’s one thing to get the exercise of playing soccer, but the self confidence, new friends and sense of belonging that goes with it is a great opportunity to set them on a different path. It strengthens the community as a whole to get kids involved in these activities.”

“I think when there is a financial stress at home, thats probably when kids need these activities the most, because it gets them outside of that situation,” said Banda.

The activities can also offer families an opportunity for family bonding while cheering kids on, said Banda.

“It’s nice for the whole family, not just the kid.”

The City of Guelph and Wellington County are contributing partners to the program, as well as Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program. Some local recreation partners waive their fees for a certain number of children in the Free to Play program, said Banda.

The foundation is reaching out to existing and prospective partners for additional funding, as well as appealing to the community at large.

“It’s hopefully a one-time thing because it’s an emergency situation,” said Banda.